Army Futures Command Is Already Testing Some of Its Next-Generation Tech Downrange

Head of Army Futures Command, Gen. John Murray. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Michael L. K. West

Head of Army Futures Command, Gen. John Murray. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Michael L. K. West

July 30, 2019 | Source: Task & Purpose, Haley Britzky, 18 July 2018

The Army may be celebrating its prized Army Futures Command (AFC) reaching full operational capability, but the organization's leaders still have quite a to-do list in front of them. 

For example, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) that returned from a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan in November was the first to test out the Integrated Tactical Network that AFC has been developing. Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, commander of the 1st SFAB, also expressed interest in trying out a semi-autonomous supply vehicle that's currently being tested currently by soldiers with the 101st and 10th Mountain Divisions. 

One of the first things to go overseas, Murray said, will be the Next-Generation Squad Weapon. Army Brig. Gen. David Hodne said this week that an infantry brigade combat team will finally get their hands on both NGSW replacements for the M4 carbine and M249 starting in 2023, per Military.com. AFC's university partners — namely the University of Texas and Texas A&M University — also have a few things coming in the next few years to further boost the work being done. Murray mentioned that UT is building a robotics lab in an old building, and A&M will soon be building a "soldier development center" out at a nearby satellite campus.

Other challenges facing AFC l in the application of artificial intelligence and developing autonomous vehicles to go off-road. "There are pretty much autonomous systems operating in the air and on the sea, and the commercial industry is plowing ahead on getting autonomous vehicles on highways," Murray said. "But the idea of having fully autonomous vehicles drive cross-country is another issue entirely."

"If you're going completely cross-country, there are no lane markings, there are no street signs, there are no vehicles around you ... to help you identify where you are," Murray said. "That's not anything that's coming in the near-term, but as we start to look and increment out what comes next, I think that's probably it." There are a number of applications of A.I. on Murray's mind, including things like predictive maintenance and algorithms that could, for example, help weapons systems recognize a target. "Key word - recognize, " Murray told reporters. While he knows people immediately think "The Terminator" when they hear about military A.I., he said the algorithm won't be the one pulling the trigger.